David Bruce: Christopher Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus (1604 A-Text) — A Retelling — Act 1 (Scenes 1-4)


— 1.1 —

[Scene 1]

Faustus, alone in his study, surrounded by books, said to himself, “Make a definite decision about your studies, Faustus, and begin to measure the depth of that which you will study in depth and teach.

“Having graduated, be a theologian in appearance, yet aim at the purpose of every discipline, and live and die in Aristotle’s works.

“Sweet Analytics, it is you who have ravished me!”

Aristotle wrote two volumes on logic: Prior Analytics and Posterior Analytics.

Faustus picked up a book and read out loud, “Bene disserere est finis logices.

The book was Dialecticae by Petrus Ramus, a reformer and logician who was killed during the Saint Bartholomew’s Day Massacre in 1572 in Paris. The Latin means, “The end — the purpose — of logic is to dispute well.”

Faustus continued, “Is logic’s chiefest end to dispute well? Doesn’t this discipline have a greater miracle? Then read no more, for you have attained the end: You know how to dispute well.

“A greater subject will suit Faustus’ intelligence.

“Bid on kai me on farewell, and bid Galen welcome, seeing Ubi desinit philosophus, ibi incipit medicus.”

On kai me on” is a transliteration of Greek words meaning “being and non-being” or “existence and non-existence.” The words come from a book by the philosopher Georgias of Leontini (c. 483-376 B.C.E.).

Galen was a famous ancient physician and writer of influential books about medicine.

Ubi desinit philosophus, ibi incipit medicus” means “Where the philosopher stops, the doctor begins.” The quotation comes from Aristotle’s De Sensu et Sensibili, a book about sense perception.

By saying farewell to on kai me on, Faustus meant that he had mastered philosophy.

Faustus continued, “Be a physician, Faustus; heap up gold, and become eternally famous for some wondrous cure: Summum bonum medicinae sanitas. Let me translate: ‘The end of the medical discipline is our body’s health.’”

Faustus’ translation into English of a Latin translation of Aristotle’s Greek Nicomachian Ethics was not entirely correct. The Latin mentions “health,” which can include mental health as well as bodily health. Faustus’ translation mentions only bodily health.

Faustus continued, “Why, Faustus, haven’t you attained that end? Isn’t your common talk sound aphorisms?”

“Sound aphorisms” are “well-thought-out medical maxims.” The ancient physician Hippocrates wrote a book titled Aphorisms about the discipline of medicine.

Faustus continued, “Are not your prescriptions hung up as commemorations, whereby whole cities have escaped the plague and a thousand desperate maladies been eased?

“Yet you are still only Faustus, and a man. If you would be able to make men to live eternally, or if they were dead, raise them to life again, then medicine would be a discipline to be esteemed.

“Medicine, farewell! Where is Justinian?”

Justinian was a Roman Emperor who codified Roman law.

Finding the Justinian book, Faustus read out loud:

Si una eademque res legatur duobus, alter rem, alter valorem, rei, etc.”

This means, “If one and the same thing is willed to two men, then one man will get the thing, and the other will get the value of the thing, etc.”

Faustus said, “A pretty case of paltry legacies!”

He then read out loud:

Exhereditare filium non potest pater, nisi, etc.”

This means, “The father may not disinherit the son, unless, etc.”

Faustus continued, “Such is the subject of the institute and universal body of the Church.”

Much canon law was based on Justinian’s codification of Roman law.

Faustus continued, “The study of Justinian befits a mercenary drudge who aims at nothing but external trash; it is too servile and illiberal for me.”

“External trash” is money and possessions.

Faustus continued, “When all is said and done, theology is best: Jerome’s Bible. Faustus, view it well.”

Saint Jerome translated the Bible into Latin; his translation is known as the Vulgate Bible.

Faustus read out loud:

Stipendium peccati mors est.

This means, “The wages of sin is death.”

Romans 6:23 states, “For the wages of sin is death: but the gift of God is eternal life, through Jesus Christ our Lord” (1599 Geneva Bible).

Faustus had translated only part of the verse, leaving out the part about the gift and mercy of God.

Faustus said, “Ha! ‘Stipendium,’ etc. The reward of sin is death: that’s hard.”

He then read out loud:

Si peccasse negamus, fallimur, et nulla est in nobis veritas.”

The Latin passage is 1 John 1:8; Faustus did not read 1 John 1:9.

1 John 1:8-9 (1599 Geneva Bible) states this:

8 If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and truth is not in us.

9 If we acknowledge our sins, he is faithful and just, to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

Again, Faustus had left out the part about God’s mercy.

Faustus continued, “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and there’s no truth in us. Why, then, in all likelihood we must sin, and so we must consequently die. Aye, we must die an everlasting death.”

The sound “Aye” has two applicable meanings: 1) Yes, and 2) I.

Faustus continued, “What doctrine do you call this? ‘Che sera, sera.’ Translation: ‘What will be, shall be.’

“Theology, adieu!”

He then looked at several large volumes in his study and said, “The metaphysics and occult knowledge of magicians are Heavenly, and these necromantic books are Heavenly.”

Necromancy is the discipline of communicating with the dead.

Faustus continued, “Here are the lines, circles, signs, letters, and characters used in black magic.

“Yes, these are those things that Faustus most desires. Oh, what a world of profit and delight, of power, of honor, of omnipotence, is promised to the studious artisan who practices the occult!

“All things that move between the quiet poles of the universe shall be at my command. Emperors and kings are obeyed only in their separate provinces, and they cannot raise the wind or rend the clouds, but the dominion of the man who excels in this black magic stretches as far as does the mind of man. A sound magician is a mighty god. Here, Faustus, test your brains and try to gain a deity.”

He then called his servant: “Wagner.”

Wagner entered the study.

Faustus ordered, “Wagner, commend me to my dearest friends, the German Valdes and Cornelius; request earnestly that they visit me.”

“I will, sir,” Wagner said.

He exited.

Faustus said, “Their conversation will be a greater help to me than all my labors, plod I never so fast.”

Faustus wanted an easy route to knowledge.

A Good Angel and an Evil Angel entered Faustus’ study.

The Good Angel pleaded, “Oh, Faustus, lay your damned book of black magic aside, and don’t gaze on it, lest it tempt your soul, and heap God’s heavy wrath upon your head! Read, read the Scriptures — that book you are holding is blasphemy.”

The Evil Angel said, “Go forward, Faustus, in that famous discipline in which all Nature’s treasure is contained. Be on Earth as Jove is in the sky — be the lord and commander of the four elements: earth, air, water, and fire.”

Jove is Jupiter, the chief Roman god who is king of the gods.

The Good Angel and the Evil Angel exited.

Faustus said to himself, “How I am glutted with the idea and conceit of this! Shall I make evil spirits fetch me what I please, resolve me of all ambiguities and answer all my questions, and perform whatever desperate enterprise I want them to perform?”

The word “desperate” means dangerous, but includes the idea of despair. Christian despair is lack of belief in Christian salvation.

Faustus continued, “I’ll have them fly to India for gold, ransack the ocean for lustrous pearls, and search all the corners of the newfound world — America — for pleasant fruits and Princely delicacies. I’ll have them teach me strange philosophy and tell me the secrets of all foreign kings. I’ll have them surround all Germany with brass walls and make the swift Rhine River circle fair Wittenberg. I’ll have them fill the universities with silk, with which the students shall be splendidly clad. I’ll levy soldiers with the money they bring me and chase the Prince of Parma from our land, and reign as sole king of all our provinces.”

The Prince of Parma was the Spanish governor-general of the United Provinces of the Netherlands.

Faustus continued, “Yes, more ingenious weapons for the assault of war than was the fiery keel at Antwerp’s bridge, I’ll make my servile spirits invent.”

While besieging Antwerp, the Prince of Parma built a bridge across the Scheldt River. The defenders of Antwerp used a fireboat to destroy the bridge.

“Come, German Valdes and Cornelius, and make me blest with your sage conversation.”

Valdes and Cornelius entered Faustus’ study.

Faustus said, “Valdes, sweet Valdes, and Cornelius, know that your words have won me at last to practice magic and the concealed occult arts. Yet not your words only, but my own imagination that will think about nothing else, for my head ruminates only on the necromantic skill.

“Philosophy is odious and obscure. Both law and medicine are for people with petty intelligence. Divinity is the basest of these three groups: It is unpleasant, harsh, contemptible, and vile.

“It is magic, magic, that has ravished me.

“So then, gentle friends, aid me in this endeavor, and I, who with concise, short, direct, and logical syllogisms have confounded the pastors of the German church, and made the flowering pride — the best students — of Wittenberg swarm to my discussions of theological problems, as the infernal spirits swarmed to the sweet poet Musaeus when he came to Hell, will be as cunning as the magician Cornelius Agrippa was, whose shadows — the spirits he raised — made all Europe honor him.”

Musaeus appears in Virgil’s Aeneid, where he is greatly respected in Elysium, the part of Hell where the good souls go.

Valdes said, “Faustus, these books, your intelligence, and our experience shall make all nations canonize us. As the dark-skinned Native Americans obey their Spanish lords, so shall the spirits we raise in bodily form be always serviceable to us three.

“They in the form of lions shall guard us when we please. Or in the form of German cavalrymen with their horsemen’s lances. Or in the form of Lapland giants, trotting by our sides. Sometimes the spirits will assume the form of women, or unwedded maidens, encompassing in their airy brows more beauty than have the white breasts of Venus, the Queen of Love.

“From Venice they shall drag huge argosies — mercantile ships, and from America they shall drag the golden fleece — the piles of gold and treasure — that yearly stuffs old King Philip II of Spain’s treasury.

“Yes, all this will happen — if learned Faustus will be resolute.”

To get devils to obey your will required payment: one’s soul. If Faustus were resolute and bargained away his soul, then he, Valdes, and Cornelius, could benefit. Apparently, Valdes and Cornelius lacked this kind of resolution.

Faustus replied, “Valdes, I am as resolute in this as you are resolute to live; therefore, make no objections.”

Cornelius said, “The miracles that magic will perform will make you vow to study nothing else. He who is well schooled in astrology, enriched with knowledge of various languages, and knowledgeable about the properties of minerals has all the principal knowledge that magic requires.

“So then, don’t doubt, Faustus, that you will be renowned, and more sought out for your knowledge of this mystery than heretofore the Delphic oracle has been.”

An oracle is a priest or priestess who is able to foretell the future. The oracle at Delphi was renowned in ancient times.

Cornelius continued, “The spirits tell me they can dry the sea and fetch the treasure of all foreign wrecks. Yes, they can fetch all the wealth that our forefathers hid within the massive entrails of the earth.

“With that in mind, tell me then, Faustus, what shall we three lack?”

“We shall lack nothing, Cornelius,” Faustus said. “Oh, this cheers my soul! Come, show me some magical demonstrations, so that I may conjure in some pleasant grove, and fully possess these joys.”

Valdes replied, “Then hasten to some solitary grove, and carry there wise Bacon’s and Abanus’ works, the Hebrew Psalter and New Testament, and whatever else is requisite that we shall inform you about before our conversation ceases.”

Roger Bacon and Pietro d’Abano were thought to be great magicians.

The Psalms and the beginning of John’s Gospel were used in conjuring.

Cornelius said, “Valdes, first let him know the words of art, and then, after he has learned all the other ceremonies, Faustus may try his cunning by himself.”

Valdes said to Faustus, “First I’ll instruct you in the rudiments, and then you will be more perfect in conjuring than I am.”

This sounds as if Valdes did not know more than the rudiments.

Faustus said, “Come and dine with me, and after we eat, we’ll explore every detail of conjuring, for before I sleep, I’ll try and see what I can do. This night I’ll conjure, although I may die for it.”

They went into the dining room.

— 1.2 —

[Scene 2]

Two scholars arrived to visit Faustus.

The first scholar said, “I wonder what’s become of Faustus, who was accustomed to make our schools ring with ‘sic probo.’”

Sic probo” is Latin for “Thus I prove it.” Faustus used to engage in much debate in the university.

The second scholar said, “We shall learn what has become of him, for look, here comes his servant.”

Wagner, Faustus’ servant, arrived. He was carrying wine.

“Oh, sirrah!” the first scholar said. “Where’s your master?”

The word “sirrah” was used to address a man of lower social status than the speaker.

Wagner replied, “God in Heaven knows.”

Usually, this means, “Only God in Heaven knows.”

The second scholar asked, “Why, don’t you know?”

“Yes, I know,” Wagner said, “but that does not follow.”

He meant that from “God in Heaven knows,” it did not follow that he, Wagner, did know.

The first scholar said impatiently, “Come on, sirrah! Stop your jesting, and tell us where Faustus is.”

Wagner said, “My knowing where Faustus is does not follow necessarily by force of argument, as you, who have one degree and a license to pursue a higher degree, should understand; therefore, acknowledge your error, and be attentive.”

Wagner meant that since his knowing Faustus’ whereabouts had not been logically established, it did not logically follow that the first scholar could demand that Wagner tell him where Faustus is.

The second scholar asked, “Why, didn’t you say you knew where Faustus is?”

“Have you any witness to it?” Wagner asked.

The first scholar said, “Yes, sirrah, he has. I heard you.”

Wagner replied, “Ask my friend if I am a thief.”

Friends will stick up for one another, and so according to Wagner, the first scholar’s backing up the second scholar means little.

The second scholar asked, “Well, won’t you tell us?”

“Yes, sir, I will tell you,” Wagner replied, “yet, if you were not dunces, you would never ask me such a question, for is not he corpus naturale? And is not that mobile? Then why therefore should you ask me such a question?”

A “corpus naturale” is a “natural body,” and natural bodies are “mobile,” or capable of movement and change. As a natural body, Faustus was capable of moving and so could be anywhere, according to Wagner.

Wagner continued, “But except that I am by nature calm, slow to wrath, and prone to lechery — oops, I meant to say, prone to love — it were not for you to come within forty foot of the place of execution, although I do not doubt to see you both hanged at the next court sessions.”

The deed being executed at this time was eating heartily. This execution was taking place in the dining room, where Faustus and his two guests were planning the execution of a deed of black magic. However, people convicted of using black magic could undergo another kind of execution. Wagner may have thought that the two scholars wanted to engage in black magic just like Valdes and Cornelius did.

Wagner continued, “Thus having triumphed over you, I will set my countenance like a Precisian — a Puritan — and I will begin to speak like one:

“Truly, my dear brethren, my master is within at dinner, with Valdes and Cornelius, as this wine I am holding, if it could speak, would inform your worships, and so, the Lord bless you, preserve you, and keep you, my dear brethren, my dear brethren!”

Wagner exited to take the wine to Faustus and his two guests.

The first scholar said, “Then I fear that Faustus has fallen into that damned art for which Valdes and Cornelius are infamous throughout the world.”

The second scholar said, “Even if Faustus were a stranger, and not allied in friendship to me, I still would grieve for him. But, come, let us go and inform the Rector — the head of the university — and see if he by his grave counsel can reclaim Faustus.”

“Oh, but I fear nothing can reclaim him!” the first scholar said.

“Yet let us try and see what we can do,” the second scholar said.

— 1.3 —

[Scene 3]

Faustus was ready to conjure.

He said, “Now that the gloomy shadow of the earth, longing to view Orion’s drizzling look, leaps from the Antarctic world to the sky, and dims the sky with her pitchy breath, Faustus, begin your incantations.”

It was nighttime. According to Faustus, night was simply the time when the northern hemisphere was in the shadow of the Earth. The Sun would set in the West and go to the southern hemisphere (from the perspective of someone fairly high in the northern hemisphere), where it would shine and put the northern hemisphere in shadow.

The constellation Orion was associated with storms, and so Faustus called it “drizzling.”

Faustus continued, “Begin your incantations and test whether devils will obey your commands, seeing that you have prayed and sacrificed to them.”

He was standing in a circle, which was thought to protect the magician from the evil spirits he called up.

Faustus continued, “Within this circle is Jehovah’s name, forward and backward anagrammatized, the breviated names of holy saints, figures of every adjunct to the Heavens, and characters of signs and wandering planets, by which the spirits are forced to rise.”

Magicians would take the name “Jehovah” and make anagrams of it. They would also use such things as the signs of the Zodiac in their conjurations.

He continued, “So then fear not, Faustus, but be resolute, and try the uttermost magic can perform.”

He then said these Latin words:

Sint mihi dei Acherontis propitii! Valeat numen triplex Jehovae! Ignei, aerii, aquatici spiritus, salvete! Orientis Princeps Belzebub, inferni ardentis monarcha, et Demogorgon, propitiamus vos, ut appareat et surgat Mephastophilis. Quod tu moraris. Per Jehovam, Gehennam, et consecratam aquam quam nunc spargo, signumque crucis quod nunc facio, et per vota nostra, ipse nunc surgat nobis dicatus Mephastophilis!

Translated, the Latin passage means this:

May the gods of Acheron be favorable to me! Farewell to the threefold spirit of Jehovah — the Trinity! Welcome, you spirits of fire, air, and water! Prince of the East; Belzebub, monarch of burning Hell; and Demogorgon, we ask that Mephastophilis may appear and rise.

Why do you delay?

By Jehovah, Hell, and the holy water that I now sprinkle, and by the sign of the cross that now I make, and by our vows may Mephastophilis himself now rise, compelled to serve us.”

The Prince of the East is Lucifer; Belzebub is a fallen Angel; Demogorgon is a deity of the underworld.

Faustus referred to only three of the four elements. Apparently one element is associated with each of the three demons he called upon. Lucifer is associated with air, and Belzebub with fire, leaving water for Demogorgon. The fourth element — earth — may be associated with Mephastophilis.

Acheron is a river in Hell.

Gehenna is a name for the destination of the wicked: Hell.

To gain the favor of the demons of Hell, Faustus rejected Jehovah.

Mephastophilis arrived; he was ugly.

Seeing him, Faustus ordered, “I order thee to return, and change thy shape. Thou are too ugly to attend on me.”

He was using the words “thee,” “thy,” and “thou,” words that a master would use to refer to a servant.

He continued, “Go and return in the form of an old Franciscan friar. That holy shape becomes a devil best.”

Mephastophilis exited.

Faustus said, “I see there’s virtue in my Heavenly words.”

By “virtue,” he meant “power,” not “moral virtue.”

He continued, “Who would not be proficient in this art? How pliant is this Mephastophilis; he is full of obedience and humility! Such is the force of magic and my spells. Faustus, you are a conjuror laureate, a conjuror who deserves the laurel of excellence, because you can command great Mephastophilis.

Quin redis Mephastophilis fratris imagine?

The Latin means, “Mephastophilis, why don’t you return in the form of a Franciscan friar?”

Mephastophilis returned in the form of a Franciscan friar and asked, “Now, Faustus, what would you have me do?”

Mephastophilis’ question is the same question that Saul (later Saint Paul) asked the risen Jesus in Acts 9:6: “He then both trembling and astonied, said, Lord, what wilt thou that I do? And the Lord said unto him, Arise, and go into the city, and it shall be told thee what thou shalt do” (1599 Geneva Bible).

Faustus answered, “I order you to wait upon me while I live, to do whatever I, Faustus, shall command, be it to make the Moon drop from her sphere, or the ocean to overwhelm the world.”

Mephastophilis said, “I am a servant to great Lucifer, and I may not follow you without his permission. No more than he commands must we perform.”

Faustus had believed that he was Mephastophilis’ master, but Mephastophilis told him straight-out that he follows Lucifer’s orders.

Faustus now began asking questions to gain information: “Didn’t Lucifer command you to appear to me?”

Mephastophilis answered, “No, I came here of my own accord.”

Faustus asked, “Didn’t my conjuring speeches raise you? Speak.”

Mephastophilis answered, “That was the cause, but yet per accidens.”

Yes, Mephastophilis had come to Faustus because of Faustus’ conjuring, but not for the reason that Faustus supposed. Faustus thought that Mephastophilis had been forced to come to him because of Faustus’ power as a conjuror, but as Mephastophilis will explain, he had come because he saw an opportunity to get Faustus’ soul.

Mephastophilis continued, “For, when we hear one rack the name of God, as you did through rearranging the letters of His name, and when we hear him abjure the Scriptures and his Savior Christ, we fly in hope to get his glorious soul.

“Nor will we come, unless he use such means whereby he is in danger to be damned. Therefore, the shortest way for successful conjuring is to arrogantly abjure the Trinity, and devoutly pray to the Prince of Hell.”

Faustus replied, “So Faustus has already done, and he believes this principle: There is no chief but only Belzebub, to whom Faustus does dedicate himself. This word ‘damnation’ does not terrify him, for he confounds Hell in Elysium. May his ghost be with the old philosophers!”

Faustus did not fear the damnation of Hell with all its tortures because he regarded the afterlife as being in Elysium, where the good pagans went and enjoyed lives much like the lives they had lived on Earth. At the end of Plato’s Apology, Socrates, who has been condemned to die, says that he does not fear death because what follows death must be one of two things: 1) a long dreamless sleep, or 2) a life like this one, but one in which Socrates can seek out and converse with great people such as Homer, creator of the Iliad and the Odyssey, who have died before him. Faustus did not believe in the Christian Hell in which unrepentant sinners are tortured.

One meaning of “confound” is “smash.” Faustus was saying that he was smashing the idea of Hell as a place of torture, and that Hell is actually a rather nice place, as is Elysium. However, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, a then-current meaning of “confound” is this: “To mix up in idea, erroneously regard or treat as identical, fail to distinguish.” Faustus was failing to distinguish between the Christian Inferno and the pagan Elysium. In Dante’s Inferno, the good pagans go to Limbo, which is a place of sighs, not screams.

Faustus continued, “But, leaving these vain trifles of men’s souls, tell me who is that Lucifer, your lord?”

Faustus also deviated from Christian theology in believing that his soul was only a vain trifle.

“Lucifer is arch-regent and commander of all spirits,” Mephastophilis replied.

“Wasn’t Lucifer an Angel once?”

“Yes, Faustus, and he was most dearly loved by God.”

“How comes it, then, that he is the Prince of Devils?”

“Oh, because of his aspiring pride and insolence, for which God threw him from the face of Heaven.”

Isaiah 14:12-15 (1599 Geneva Bible) tells us this about Lucifer:

12 How art thou fallen from Heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning? and cut down to the ground, which didst cast lots upon the nations?

13 Yet thou saidest in thine heart, I will ascend into Heaven, and exalt my throne above beside the stars of God: I will sit also upon the mount of the congregation in the sides of the North.

14 I will ascend above the height of the clouds, and I will be like the most high.

15 But thou shalt be brought down to the grave, to the side of the pit.

Faustus is another being with “aspiring pride and insolence.”

“And what are you who live with Lucifer?” Faustus asked.

“We are unhappy spirits who fell with Lucifer, conspired against our God with Lucifer, and are forever damned with Lucifer.”

“Where are you damned?”

“In Hell.”

“How comes it, then, that you are out of Hell?”

“Why, this is Hell, nor am I out of it,” Mephastophilis replied. “Do you think that I, who saw the face of God and tasted the eternal joys of Heaven, am not tormented with ten thousand Hells in being deprived of everlasting bliss?”

Saint John Chrysostom had written “si decem mille gehennas quis dixerit, nihil tale est quale ab illa beata visione excidere.”

The Latin means that knowing that one will never enjoy the everlasting bliss of the presence of God is worse than suffering ten thousand Hells.

Mephastophilis said, “Oh, Faustus, stop asking these frivolous questions, which strike a terror to my fainting soul!”

Such questions are not frivolous; frivolous questions do not strike terror in one’s fainting soul.

“Is great Mephastophilis so strongly emotional because he has been deprived of the joys of Heaven?” Faustus said scornfully. “Learn from Faustus manly fortitude, and scorn those joys you never shall possess.

“Go bear these tidings to great Lucifer. Seeing Faustus has incurred eternal death by desperate thoughts against Jove’s deity, say that he surrenders up to Lucifer his soul, provided that Lucifer will let him live in all voluptuousness for twenty-four years, with you to serve me always during that time, to give me whatsoever I shall ask, to answer any question whatsoever I ask you, to slay my enemies and aid my friends, and to always be obedient to my will.”

Faustus was calling God “Jove” — a name for the pagan god Jupiter, king of the gods. “Jove’s deity” means “Jupiter’s divine nature.”

Faustus continued, “Go and return to mighty Lucifer, and meet me in my study at midnight, and then inform me what your master’s answer is.”

Mephastophilis replied, “I will, Faustus.”

He exited.

Alone, Faustus said to himself, “If I had as many souls as there are stars, I’d give them all for Mephastophilis. With his help I’ll be great Emperor of the World, and make a bridge through the moving air in order to cross the ocean with a band of men. I’ll join the hills that enclose the African shore and join that land to Spain, closing the Strait of Gibraltar, and make both lands subject to my crown. The Holy Roman Emperor Charles V shall not live except with my permission, nor will any potentate of Germany.

“Now that I have obtained what I want, I’ll spend my time in contemplation of this art until Mephastophilis returns again.”

— 1.4 —

[Scene 4]

Wagner and the Clown talked together.

Wagner ordered, “Sirrah boy, come here.”

The word “boy” meant “servant.”

The Clown said, “Do you call me ‘boy’? By God’s wounds, ‘boy’! I hope you have seen many boys with such pickadevaunts as I have. ‘Boy,’ did you say?”

A pickadevaunt is a pointed beard.

“Tell me, sirrah,” Wagner asked, “have you any comings in?”

By “comings in,” Wagner meant “income.”

“Yes,” the Clown replied, “and goings out, too, as you may see.”

He thrust his hand through a hole in his ragged clothing.

“Alas, the poor fellow,” Wagner said to you the reader. “See how poverty jests in his nakedness. The villain is bare, and out of a job, and so hungry that I know he would give his soul to the devil for a shoulder of mutton, even if it were blood raw.”

“What!” the Clown said. “Sell my soul to the devil for a shoulder of mutton even if it were blood raw? That is not so, good friend. By the Virgin Mary, I must have it well roasted, and with a good sauce, if I pay so dearly for it.”

“Well, will you serve me?” Wagner asked. “If you do, I’ll make you go like Qui mihi discipulus.”

Qui mihi discipulus” is Latin for “one who is my pupil.”

 “How, in verse?” the Clown asked.

“No, sirrah, in beaten silk and stavesacre,” Wagner said.

Silk is an expensive fabric. “Beaten silk” is embroidered silk: Expensive metals such as gold and silver could be beaten with a hammer into silk clothing to form a metal embroidery. Of course, such clothing would be only for the very wealthy. As you may expect, Wagner was obliquely saying that he would beat the Clown if the Clown were his apprentice.

Stavesacre is a lotion made from certain kinds of seeds; it is used to kill vermin such as lice. Wagner was saying the Clown was infested with lice; he also was obliquely saying that he would beat the Clown. A stave is a staff that can be used to give aches, so it is a stave-ache-er.

“What!” the Clown said, addressing you the reader k. “What! Knave’s acre? Yes, I thought that was all the land his father left him.”

The Clown then said to Wagner, “Listen to me, I would be sorry to rob you of your living.”

Wagner replied, “Sirrah, I say I will pay you in stavesacre.”

“Oh, ho! Oh, ho! Stavesacre,” the Clown said. “Why then, it is likely that, if I were your apprentice, I would be full of vermin. Anyone who inherits only an acre will have lice-infested servants due to lack of money for hiring good servants.”

“So you shall be, whether you work for me, or not, but sirrah, stop your jesting, and bind yourself immediately to me as an apprentice for seven years, or I’ll turn all the lice about you into familiars, and they shall tear you in pieces.”

Witches, who could be male or female, had familiar spirits that would obey their commands.

“Listen, sir,” the Clown said. “You may save yourself that labor; you need not worry about lice tearing me into pieces. They are too familiar with me already. By God’s wounds, they are as bold with my flesh as if they had paid for my meat and drink.”

The lice were already biting him and drinking his blood; it was as if they had bought a meal and a waiter had served them the Clown.

“Well, do you hear me, sirrah?” Wagner said. “Wait, take these guilders.”

The guilders were coins paid to a new apprentice to seal the bargain.

Guilders are Dutch gold and silver coins, but Wagner actually wanted to pay the Clown with French crowns, coins that at the time were usually counterfeit or debased. English citizens were legally encouraged to make holes in French crowns as a way to show their lack of worth. The French crowns Wagner wanted to give the Clown had holes and resembled gridirons. A gridiron is a grill used for cooking over a fire; it has holes for the fat to drip through.

“Gridirons,” the Clown said, taking and looking at the coins. “What are they?”

“Why, French crowns,” Wagner replied.

“By the Mass, but for the name of French crowns a man would be as well off to have as many English counters, and what would I do with these?”

English counters were tokens used in small financial transactions; they had no intrinsic value of the kind gold and silver coins did. The only reason to prefer French crowns to English counters was that “crowns” sounds fancier than “counters” — a counter is a prison, especially a prison for debtors.

“Why, now, sirrah, you are at an hour’s warning whensoever or wheresoever the devil shall fetch you,” Wagner said.

Part of Revelation 18:10 states that “in one hour is thy judgment come” (1599 Geneva Bible).

The Clown said, “No, no, take your gridirons again.”

“Truly, I don’t want them,” Wagner said.

“Truly, but you shall take them,” the Clown said.

“Bear witness I gave them to him,” Wagner said to you the reader.

“Bear witness I give them to you again,” the Clown said to Wagner.

“Well, I will cause two devils to immediately fetch you away,” Wagner said. He called, “Baliol and Belcher!”

“Let your Balio and your Belcher come here, and I’ll so knock them about and so beat them that they were never so knocked about since they were devils,” the Clown said. “Let’s say that I kill one of them. What would folks say? They would say, ‘Do you see yonder splendid fellow in the baggy pants? He has killed the devil.’ And so I would be called ‘kill-devil’ all the parish over.”

A “kill-devil” is a man who is reckless and daring.

The two devils arrived, frightening the Clown.

Wagner ordered, “Baliol and Belcher — spirits, go away!”

The spirits exited.

“Are they gone?” the Clown said. “A vengeance on them. They have long vile nails. There was a he-devil and a she-devil. I’ll tell you how you should know them: All he-devils have horns, and all she-devils have clefts and cloven feet.”

Not all the horns of horny he-devils grow on their head. The clefts of she-devils are also known as vulvas.

“Well, sirrah, follow me,” Wagner said.

“But listen to me,” the Clown said. “If I serve you and become your apprentice, would you teach me to raise up Banios and Belcheos?”

“I will teach you to turn yourself into anything,” Wagner said. “I will teach you to turn yourself into a dog, or a cat, or a mouse, or a rat, or anything.”

“What!” the Clown said. “Turn a Christian fellow into a dog, or a cat, or a mouse, or a rat?”

These are downward transformations; something good is transformed into something worse.

“No, no, sir,” the Clown added, “if you turn me into anything, let it be in the likeness of a pretty frisking flea, so that I may be here and there and everywhere. Oh, I’ll tickle the pretty wenches’ plackets, I’ll be among them, in faith.”

Comic songs of the time celebrated the flea’s freedom of movement anywhere on the body of a pretty young woman.

A placket was an opening in a woman’s petticoat; metaphorically, it was a certain opening in a woman’s body.

“Well, sirrah, come,” Wagner said.

“But, listen to me, Wagner —” the Clown began.

Wagner called, “Baliol and Belcher!”

“Oh, Lord!” the Clown said. “Please, sir, let Banio and Belcher go and sleep.”

“Villain, call me Master Wagner, and let your left eye be diametarily fixed upon my right heel, with quasi vestigias nostrias insistere.

Wagner was imitating his master’s — Faustus’ — way of speaking, and so was using, or rather misusing, the “word” “diametarily.”

The Latin words — some of which were incorrect; vestigias nostrias ought to be vestigiis nostris — mean “as if to tread in our footsteps.” Wagner was putting on airs, using the majestic plural to refer to his footsteps.

Wagner exited.

The Clown said to himself, “God forgive me. He — Wagner — speaks Dutch fustian.”

“Dutch fustian” is bombastic gibberish.

The Clown continued, “Well, I’ll follow him; I’ll serve him, that’s flat. Yes, that’s for sure.”

The Clown had agreed to serve Wagner as an apprentice in return for some lessons in magic and some debased French crowns — a bad bargain, especially after being promised guilders instead of French crowns. He also would never get the beaten silk that had been promised to him, although he would probably get the stavesacre, especially in the form of stave-ache-er. His agreement, however, had a time limit: seven years. At that time, he would again be free. In this sense, he had made a better bargain than Faustus would make.

This entry was posted in Books and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s